I decided to go over to Laos first and then to Thailand but the initial plan was to go to Thailand from Cambodia and later to Laos and then from Laos fly to Burma but I dropped that idea and decided to cross all the borders by land in Asia also looked up for possibility of crossing overland from Burma to India.
I booked a 10 hour van from Siem Reap to Pakse (a small town in Southern Laos) and tuk-tuk picked me from the hotel in the morning and dropped me at a hostel where a group of backpackers were already waiting. I also settled down in a quiet corner until the van arrived. It was amazing how the everyone’s backpacks were loaded in the small van under the seats by the driver and his partner. I thought I will be pakse by late afternoon or early evening and depending on how I feel, either I will stay the night at pakse or continue north to Vientiane by the overnight bus. Ride was mostly on a single road with traffic in both directions and it was all green if you looked outside the window. Van stopped at a small restaurant in a small town in the late afternoon, some people ate lunch. I was keen on reaching Pakse and having a good meal so I didn’t eat anything. Stop was longer than usual as the van disappeared after dropping everyone off and removing everyone’s luggage and after one hour another van came and everyone boarded to continue the journey. After 45 minutes we were are the Cambodia and Laos border and one guy collected our passports and visa plus the extra fee and came back after 40 minutes with the Cambodian visa and all the stamps. Then he asked where everyone is going and I was the only one going to Pakse and everyone else was going to 4000 islands. Everyone was sitting at this road side restaurant at the border on Cambodian side and our new driver and his new partner had couple of more friends waiting near the restaurant and they took the corner table and started their party. I spoke to one of the guy while waiting at the first stop and asked him about the departure time and he signaled me to join them and I sat with them, they offered me food and the beer can they were enjoying and I politely declined and glad that I ordered some food. This group of four locals when they start drinking they all raised their beers can and said something similar to cheers in the local language and started drinking. I started smiling when they repeated the same thing after every four minutes, one of them will raise his can and others will join him. After they did for 20th time I could not control myself and asked one of them why they are doing this after every minute, he spoke little bit of English and he replied we friendly and happy and we do this. It was fun to watch to watch them.
I have lot of pending posts and have been working on them and hopefully clear the backlog soon. I have started a project which resonates with the name of the blog, I have started asking people I meet on the road about their dreams.
I want to share an experience which happened few days ago, it touched me a lot. I was sitting in a tiny café in a beautiful small town surrounded by green mountains in northern Thailand. The girl working at the café spoke little English, she was very polite and had a positive and happy aura around her. I used the google translator app on the phone and told her about the project and then typed “Can I ask you a question?” and showed her the translation and she nodded.
I had no expectation from Siem Reap and thought about it as just another stop, it was a long journey if I wanted to go directly from Phnom Penh to Bangkok. I decided to stop in Siem Reap and then think about the next leg of the journey. I was also excited to meet my host in Siem Reap and looking forward to the local experience but it did not go as expected, my host was working in a hotel and he gave me room in the hotel which was nice of him. I felt sometimes he was not genuine, stories he had created might have worked with other tourists but I could sense the cunningness hidden in his politeness anyways I planned to stay there for few days and check out the surroundings. I read about Angkor wat a must see place in the area, it is one of the old temples in the area. I also liked the local Amok dish, It was like a thai curry but little different in taste.
It was my first time crossing an international border by boat. When the boat entered the Cambodian water, driver pulled up the Vietnamese flag and it put on the front of the boat. Boat ride was about 30 mins and was pretty. I saw a floating gas station for the first time on a river where our boat refueled. I shared the boat with few Russian and British people.
Visa process was straight forward, guy on the boat was friendly and funny, he collected everyone’s passport and asked for the visa fee which included special fees for the border officials on both sides. I told him that I don’t have Cambodian currency or dollars and can only pay in Vietnam dong (vnd) and he told me that it would cost me about 320K vnd, I had calculated that it would cost about 280k and was carrying only 300k, I tried to argue that according to conversion with the highest rate and the fees it will cost 280k and he replied that the exchange rate I was using is available only in town. I showed him the money and told him that this is all I have and please give me back some currency for souvenir, I don’t care, even a 1000 vnd bill will be fine. He gave me back 10k vnd and smiled and said a bigger souvenir for you. We stopped first at the Vietnam immigration for the exit stamps and then waited about 20 minutes at the Cambodian immigration and had our passport back with exit stamps and Cambodian visa. He directed all of us who where on the boat to proceed to the immigration office and get entry stamps for Cambodia and go outside where the van was waiting.
Chau Dac is a small border town on Vietnam side near Vietnam and Cambodia border. M suggested to visit floating forest near the town and I am glad I did. He dropped me at the bus stop in the morning on the way to work and helped me with the bus ticket. We parted ways and I thanked him for his wonderful hospitality and glimpse of local life, it reminded me of my college in Gurgaon. Bus was suppose to leave from a central station and they had a shuttle from the ticket office to the main bus station. When the shuttle bus came, lady at the ticket counter signaled me to board it.
At the main station when I went to my bus company’s office to ask about where to catch the bus, man at the office gate saw my ticket and told me to wait for 30 mins in the waiting hall. When I went to the waiting hall next door it was packed, it was a big hall with million people and I came out and started looking for some quiet corner. When I passed the office again man asked me what happened, I told him it is too crowded and I saw a empty chair in the office near the entrance and asked him if I can wait here and he said sure. I got the VIP seat in the office and I was the only non uniform person in the office and the man who was helping me was standing on the entrance and directing people to their respective buses and in between when no one was asking him about the buses he started asking about my whereabouts and all the regular questions, how long I been here, where I am going to next etc. He was also translating for his office colleagues who were busy on the computers and laughing once in a while and then he suddenly points to the girl working in the corner and said she likes you. He teased me until my bus arrived. I was trying to steer the conversation to some other topics by asking him random question but he will came back to his topic after answering my question. It was funny. When my bus arrived he didn’t let me go until I said good bye to the girl, poor girl was laughing so hard and was super shy, I waved good bye and thanked him for the entertainment. Chau Dac was 6 hours away.